The Impossibility of Racism in Christianity
One of the ugliest cancers affecting mankind today is the practice of racial prejudice. There is virtually no aspect of our lives where racial prejudice does not find expression. Politics, education, unions, corporate structures, the military, and the medical establishment all struggle with hatred and exclusion based upon skin color or other chosen racial criteria. Racial hatred has also found expression in religion from time to time. This has not only been seen in the actions of radical groups like the Ku Klux Klan, but also in more subtle ways within the fellowship of believers. This is especially difficult to comprehend when one really looks at the teachings of Christ and what the Bible actually teaches. It is much easier to find justification for racial hatred and practices of exclusion and segregation when one is basing their choices on systems opposed to Christianity.
RACE AND ORIGINS
When one examines the various explanations of the origin of man, one sees right from the start a contrast between the biblical system and the assumptions of evolutionary systems. If man is a product of evolution, then the extent to which man has evolved can be used to elevate one person over another. In the past, there have been those who argued that people of a different color were inferior because they were less evolved. The basis of saying they were less evolved was that their technology was not as advanced, they understood less science, their medical practices were less sophisticated, and their conduct or dress was considered to be less advanced. It is not difficult to see how such arguments could be made, especially when the instruments used to measure how advanced someone was, was an instrument made by those who claimed to be more highly evolved.
In the biblical account of man's origin, special emphasis is given to the fact that man is uniquely created in the image of God. This emphasizes man's spiritual nature as that which sets him apart as special--not his physical makeup. If all humans possess a soul of equal value, then obviously there is no basis for suggesting that one group is superior to another. Physical criteria are of no significance in the Christian system. Age, sex, skin color, education, money, national origin, IQ, physical condition, or even what a person has done are of no value. Peter said it well in Acts 10:34 when he said "of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons."
Another support for a freedom from racism in the biblical perspective is that all humans in the biblical account have a common origin. The Bible tells us in Genesis 3:20 that "Eve is the mother of all living." Mitochondreal DNA evidence in recent years has supported that concept, but more important is that our development from Eve to now puts us all on an equal spiritual basis. We have the same origin, the same heritage, the same value of ancestry, and a common spiritual history. The Bible also pictures Christ as coming to save all men, not just those of a special makeup or heritage.
RACE OR NATIONAL ELITISM
Many nations or religions have considered those who were not a
part of that religion to be inferior. Almost all man-made
religions have found ways of attaching identifying marks to those
who were a part of their group. Everything from a mark on the
forehead to hair style to clothing has been used to isolate one
part of the population from another. Even when others were
converted to a religion, there were frequently continued
prejudices of this kind. Even within the early church, there were
carry-over prejudices which caused some widows to be treated
better than others (Acts 6:1-7). These were formed before the
individuals involved became Christians, but prejudice dies hard.
In the Christian system, we see a freedom from prejudice from the beginning. Jesus constantly broke down the walls of prejudice. People were upset with Christ because He ate with tax collectors and publicans, the social outcasts of His day and the lowest of all people in the eyes of the Jewish society in which he lived. When Christ met the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:7 the Bible tells us that she was amazed that He would talk to her since the prejudice between the Jews and the Samaritans was so great that they would not even speak to each other. Jesus also ignored national and regional divisions by saying, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars and unto God the things that are God's"(Matthew 22:21).
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST AND THE CHRISTIAN CONCEPT OF THE NATURE OF MAN
Over the years, there have been a variety of attempts to suggest that there are natural driving forces which control the fate of mankind individually and collectively. In one way or another, these forces boil down to some version of natural selection. The naked ape hypothesis and thought mechanism has said that man is territorial so war is inevitable. Competition for mates, power, and things is said to be a part of our makeup--so there will always be the haves and the have nots. If this is the nature of man, then the most fit will dominate the earth, and the less fit will always be their servants. It is easy to justify excluding those who obviously cannot compete with the groups of which I am a member. To preserve my position, I have to keep these inferiors under my thumb. Racism is easy to justify if I buy into this kind of mindset. "It's a dog-eat-dog world" gives me license to do whatever it takes to succeed.
The Christian system is the antithesis of this kind of thinking. Jesus taught His followers to lift up the fallen and give to those in need. In the judgment scenes, Jesus described to His followers, those who were condemned were lost because they did not help those in prison and those without food and drink (Matthew 25:36ff). In the first century church, those who were successful and would have been expected to perpetuate their superior status by the logic of natural selection sold what they had so that they could give to those who were without.
The Christian system teaches man that his responsibility is to look after the welfare of others. From the Good Samaritan to the instructions to Philemon about the love and care to be given to a run-away slave, the Bible writers emphasized a value system based on spiritual things. Having the world's possessions, being able to control others, having greater position in society was never held up as a priority.
I had made comments like these in a lectureship recently when a skeptic responded with the comment that all of the Christians he knew were among the biggest bigots on the planet. He then cited a long series of events in which horrible things had been done to a group of people in the name of Christianity by a group who felt they were racially superior to the group they persecuted. There can be no denying that this has happened, but those who did these things did not do them with the authorization of the teachings of Christ. Human reasoning was used to justify what was done, and all that was done was in complete opposition to the teachings of Christ.
In contrast, if people believe races are different because of the extent to which they have evolved, and if they believe that natural selection is the method of operation by which the fit stay fit, their racial oppression is in conformity to that belief system. When Mohammed commanded "When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters (Christians and Jews) wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them" (Repentance 9:4-7 in the Koran, Penguin Classics, 1974), he stated a method to support his concept of superiority. Jesus, on the other hand, said to love those who hate you, turn the other cheek, and that as much as it depends upon you, to live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18).
Christians must take the lead in eradicating racial prejudice
because the Christian system is the only system that logically
opposes racism. The government cannot legislate racial equality
when it embraces a national policy based upon natural selection.
We may be able to be the "most fit" militarily for a
while but, if we are ever going to totally eliminate racism, it
will have to be done through the love and compassion of
Christians who let their light shine in a world buried in the
darkness of hate.
--John N. Clayton
Back to Contents Does God Exist?, MayJun98.